Boerhavia erecta (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Boerhavia erecta L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 3 (1753).
Family: Nyctaginaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 52

Vernacular names

  • Tar vine, erect spiderling (En).
  • Mkwakwara (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Boerhavia erecta originates from the New World but now has a pantropical distribution. It occurs throughout the regions of tropical Africa with a distinct dry season, from West Africa east to Somalia and south to South Africa. It is a recent introduction in Réunion.


Boerhavia erecta has similar properties to Boerhavia diffusa L., and the root is applied in India especially as a diuretic, but also as a stomachic, cardiotonic, hepatoprotective, laxative, anthelmintic, febrifuge, expectorant and, in higher doses, as an emetic and purgative. As a diuretic it is useful in cases of strangury, jaundice, enlarged spleen, gonorrhoea and other internal inflammations. In moderate doses it is successful in treatment of asthma. In Mali a decoction of the whole plant is taken to treat gastro-intestinal, liver and infertility problems, while a paste of the roots is rubbed on abscesses and ulcers to ripen them. In Niger ash of the whole plant is rubbed on the skin of the head against fungal infections. In Benin a decoction of the whole plant is taken to treat convulsions in children. In southern Sudan the roots are used in a preparation for treating the stump of a newly severed umbilical cord. Neonatal tetanus is relatively prevalent in that area and this plant is suspected of being a vehicle for the infection. In Kenya the leaves are crushed in water and the extract taken to treat diarrhoea. In Tanzania the ash of the entire plant is mixed with oil and rubbed on to treat rheumatism and scabies. The dried root is powdered and added to local beer as an aphrodisiac. Sap from the leaves is squeezed into the eye to treat conjunctivitis.

In West and East Africa the leaves are sometimes eaten as a vegetable or used for the preparation of sauces. Cattle in the Sahel graze the plant before the inflorescences have developed. At this stage it can be made into silage as well. In Benin Boerhavia erecta was found to be very palatable for rabbits.

Production and international trade

Boerhavia erecta is used at a local scale, except in India where especially the roots enter in popular medicinal formulations.


Despite the common medicinal uses of Boerhavia erecta throughout its distribution area, information on its properties is scarce. As it is credited with similar medicinal uses to Boerhavia diffusa, it is likely to contain similar compounds such as the alkaloid punarnavine. The ethanol extract of the aerial parts showed strong larvicidal effect on the tick Boophilus microplus.


Annual to short-lived perennial herb up 1 m tall, sometimes with a thick taproot; stem branching mainly from the base, ascending to erect, fleshy, green, often flushed with red, lower parts thinly hairy, upper parts glabrous, nodes swollen. Leaves opposite, simple, about equal; stipules absent; petiole 1–3.5(–4) cm long; blade broadly lanceolate to ovate, 2.5–4.5(–8) cm × 1.5–2.5(–6.5) cm, base rounded to truncate, apex rounded to acute, margins sinuate, pale green to whitish beneath, sometimes with red marginal glands. Inflorescence an axillary, small, often congested umbel, (1–)4–5(–6)-flowered, aggregated in a diffuse panicle up to 30 cm × 20 cm, by reduction of leaves appearing terminal, elongating after start of flowering; bracts and bracteoles small, caducous. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel 1–3 mm long; perianth tubular-campanulate, distinctly constricted halfway, lower part obconical, surrounding the ovary, 5-ribbed, green, upper part 5-lobed, 1–1.5 mm × 2 mm, lobes emarginate, white to pale pink or dotted with red, soon falling; stamens 2(–3), slightly exserted; ovary superior, seemingly inferior, 1-celled, style slightly exserted, stigma head-shaped. Fruit an achene enclosed by the thickened lower part of perianth (collectively called anthocarp); anthocarp obconical or club-shaped, 3–4 mm × 1.5–2 mm apex truncate, sharply 5-ribbed, with glabrous ribs, 1-seeded. Seed obovoid, pale brown. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl well developed, shortly hairy; cotyledons rounded, with distinct midvein; first leaves alternate, shortly hairy, purplish beneath.

Other botanical information

Boerhavia comprises 5–20 species depending on the species concept, and includes several variable pantropical weeds with complex nomenclatural histories. Boerhavia erecta is propagated by seed. The mucous coat of the anthocarp shows a distinct sticky swelling when ripe, with which it clings to mammals and birds for wide dispersal. Boerhavia erecta can be found flowering and fruiting throughout the year, when sufficient water is available. Under favourable conditions, flowering starts 2 weeks after germination and the first seeds ripen 2 weeks later. A well-developed Boerhavia erecta plant can form 20,000–30,000 seeds per year.


Boerhavia erecta occurs in open bushland, on waste ground, in agricultural land and along roadsides, up to 1500(–2500) m altitude, usually on sandy or rocky soils. It prefers sunny localities and a seasonal climate with a pronounced dry season.


Boerhavia erecta grows well in irrigated arable land. It is a common weed in several annual and perennial crops, but causes little damage. It is easily controlled by various chemical herbicides and repeated mechanical cultivation. The harvested parts of Boerhavia erecta are often used fresh, except for the roots, which may be dried in the sun for later use.

Genetic resources

Boerhavia erecta has a large area of distribution and occurs in disturbed habitats, and is therefore not at risk of genetic erosion.


Boerhavia erecta has a wide range of medicinal uses similar to those of its better-known relative Boerhavia diffusa, but research is needed to elucidate its pharmacological properties and its compounds responsible for the activities.

Major references

  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Floret, J.J., Guinko, S., Koumaré, M., Ahyi, M.R.A. & Raynal, J., 1979. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Mali. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 291 pp.
  • Berhaut, J., 1979. Flore illustrée du Sénégal. Dicotylédones. Volume 6. Linacées à Nymphéacées. Gouvernement du Sénégal, Ministère du Développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, Dakar, Senegal. 636 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
  • Gilbert, M.G., 2000. Nyctaginaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 264–273.
  • Slamet Sutanti Budi Rahayu, 2001. Boerhavia L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 111–116.

Other references

  • Adehan, R., Kpodekon, M., Houenon, J., Ossenti, T.B. & Lebas, F., 1994. Comparative study of palatability of twenty three forages used in rabbit breeding: first results. Cahiers Options Méditerranéennes 8: 125–129.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Adjakidjè, V., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akoègninou, A., d’Almeida, J., Apovo, F., Boukef, K., Chadare, M., Cusset, G., Dramane, K., Eyme, J., Gassita, J.N., Gbaguidi, N., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Houngnon, P., Lo, I., Keita, A., Kiniffo, H.V., Kone-Bamba, D., Musampa Nseyya, A., Saadou, M., Sodogandji, T., De Souza, S., Tchabi, A., Zinsou Dossa, C. & Zohoun, T., 1989. Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Bénin. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 895 pp.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Dan Dicko, L., Daouda, H., Delmas, M., de Souza, S., Garba, M., Guinko, S., Kayonga, A., N'Golo, D., Raynal, J. & Saadou, M., 1985. Médecine traditionnelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques au Niger. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 250 pp.
  • Edeoga, H.O. & Ikem, C.I., 2002. Tannins, saponins and calcium oxalate crystals from Nigerian species of Boerhavia L. (Nyctaginaceae). South African Journal of Botany 68: 386–388.
  • Geissler, P.W., Harris, S.A., Prince, R.J., Olsen, A., Achieng’ Odhiambo, R., Oketch-Rabah, H., Madiega, P.A., Andersen, A. & Mølgaard, P., 2002. Medicinal plants used by Luo mothers and children in Bondo district, Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 83: 39–54.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Noba, K. & Ba, A.T., 1992. Réexamen de la systématique de 3 espèces du genre Boerhavia L. (Nyctaginaceae). Webbia 46(2): 327–339.
  • Stintzing, F.C., Kammerer, D., Schieber, A., Adama, H., Nacoulma, O.G. & Carle, R., 2004. Betacyanins and phenolic compounds from Amaranthus spinosus L. and Boerhavia erecta L. Zeitschrift für Naturforschung - Section C, Biosciences 59(1–2): 1–8.
  • Thulin, M., 1993. Nyctaginaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 1. Pteridophyta; Gymnospermae; Angiospermae (Annonaceae-Fabaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 168–175.
  • Whitehouse, C., 1996. Nyctaginaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 20 pp.


  • G.H. Schmelzer, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Schmelzer, G.H., 2006. Boerhavia erecta L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 25 September 2022.